400 Level English


Courses at the 400 level afford intensive engagement with advanced topics in English Studies. Offered as seminars, these courses enable students to engage in intimate and sustained conversations about literary and other cultural materials, and to pursue compelling and original avenues of research.

Please consult the University Calendar for a full listing of our ENGL courses, not all of which are offered in a given year. Our department also offers Film Studies and Creative Writing courses.

Spring 2024

ENGL 426/635: Shakespeare and Ecological Crisis: Four Shakespeare Plays and the Issue of Our Times
C. Sale

This course gives students the opportunity to engage an urgent question for literary studies, with four Shakespeare plays as our starting point: in the face of an ever-increasing global ecological crisis, how does literature help us imagine responses to the rapidly growing threat to humanity’s existence that scientists have predicted and warned about for decades?

The Shakespearean drama is especially helpful in this regard. Written on the brink of modernity, Shakespeare’s work reflects developments in Shakespeare’s lifetime that precipitated our current crisis. At the same time, Shakespeare’s work powerfully exemplifies the immense imaginative capacity that literary writers bring to the problems that humanity has created for itself and for the planet’s non-human beings.

We will study four plays — A Midsummer Night’s DreamMacbethHamlet, and The Tempest — in relation to select secondary readings that help us situate both the Shakespearean drama and ecological crisis in relation to historical and contemporary thought. Our governing question as we discuss the plays in relation to select secondary readings: how does Shakespeare represent human relations to the “natural” world?

Secondary readings will include a couple of key scholarly articles as well as excerpts from Amitav Ghosh’s The Nutmeg’s Curse; Jairus Victor Grove’s Savage Ecology: War and Geopolitics and the End of the World; Robin Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass; George Monbiot’s Regenesis; the recent collection Solarities edited by Cymene Howe, Jeff Diamanti, and Amelia Moore; and Tyson Yunkaporta’s Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World.

Summer 2024

ENGL 409-B1: Studies in Literary Periods and Cultural Movements
The Social, Political, and Textual Worlds of Elizabeth I
L. Schechter

This course will focus on the vibrant social, political, and textual worlds of England’s Queen Elizabeth I, who famously ruled on her own for forty-five years. While many can immediately summon an image of Elizabeth--the iconic paintings that show her pale skin, red hair, and extravagant clothing, for example, or the more recent popular representations on film or tv--fewer are familiar with her wide corpus of written texts or her ability to work in (at the very least) Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Italian, and Flemish. While concentrating on materials authored by Elizabeth, the class will also consider important works written to and inspired by one of England’s most celebrated queens. Topics will include family relationships, marriage debates, courtly love, political plotting, displays of imperial power, and encomiastic representations of royalty. Students will likely participate in scheduled roundtable panel discussions or an undergraduate symposium at the end of the semester; details for this assignment will be confirmed closer to the start of classes.

fall 2024

ENGL 409 LEC A1: Studies in Literary Periods and Cultural Movements
Victorian Conceptions of the Self
P. Sinnema

This course takes up a few central “statements” about the individual as a construct—of narrative fiction (i.e. the first-person voice/perspective typical of the bildungsroman), of scientific debate (evolutionary, legal, and psychological investigation), of the emergent self-help industry—in order to investigate how the self was conceptualized (written, positioned, dissected) and subjected (to juridical, state, satirical, etc. apparatuses and practices, but also made into a semi-autonomous being, an agential subject) in Victorian Britain. The idea of the self serves only as a potential touchstone for our approach to these disparate texts; students are encouraged to develop and refine their own interpretive interests, and to have Villette read for the start of class. 

ENGL 426 LEC A1: Studies in Literary and Cultural Histories
Reading, Readers and Mass Media
D. Fuller
When contemporary readers turn to books, fan fiction or audiobooks in their leisure time they are participating in popular culture. They are also choosing an activity – reading – that is often viewed as more socially and culturally valuable than others, such as watching television or playing online games. In this course we examine why reading books gives kudos to readers; how mass media and the publishing industry inform what and how we read and our ideas about it; and how and why readers share their reading, and connect with others both on- and off-line. This is not a traditional literary text-based course since it engages with scholarship and methods from reading studies and book history, but no prior knowledge of these fields is required. Hands-on activities (e.g. an in-class reading group) and mini-research tasks (e.g. observing readers in libraries and bookshops) will also inform our learning and thinking.
ENGL 430 LEC A1: Studies in Theory
A Geopoetics of Habitat
S. Krotz
This course takes an experience-based approach to theories of space, place, and ecological thought that illuminate our shared urban habitat. Conducted outside the classroom when weather allows, we explore how theorists such as Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefebvre, Yi Fu Tuan, Tim Ingold, Timothy Morton, Rebecca Solnit, Jenny Odell, and Robin Wall Kimmerer invite us to "read" our habitats in new ways. Ideally, this class would be taught in the Fall term on T-R afternoons, when it is still warm enough to conduct classes outside for the first two months (and the 80-minute class time allows us to explore the river valley and other parts of campus).
ENGL 465 LEC A1: Studies in Gender & Sexualities
Women Writing War
L. Harrington
Women’s experiences of and participation in war and violent conflict are often not read. In fact war literature is traditionally associated with men, while women are regarded as peripheral or innocent victims. While victimhood is one important consideration, particularly when women’s bodies are weaponized and co-opted by state-sponsored narratives around nation-building, so too is the issue of women as active participants in both armed combat and peace processes. This course will examine these concerns through the contemporary writing of women in Northern Ireland, Bangladesh, and Israel and Palestine. We will study a selection of forms and genres, including poetry, short fiction and non-fiction narratives, to query cultural conceptions of gender in these three locations of conflict. In so doing, we will take up discussions of the body, borders, precarity, language and the Mother myth.

winter 2025

ENGL 409 LEC B1/German 460: Studies in Literary Periods and Cultural Movements
The Holocaust as Memory Politics
K. Ball

The Canadian Parliament’s standing ovations in September 2023 for Yaroslav Hunka, a former member of the Galician division of the Waffen SS, betrayed a shameful ignorance about the the SS’s internationally recognized criminal role in the genocide of European Jews among many other groups. In the immediate wake of this incident, the University of Alberta was compelled to dismantle a fund named for Hunka and officiated by the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, an academic unit founded by a former University Chancellor, Peter Savaryn, who was himself a Waffen SS veteran. This course will offer an opportunity to examine the context of this incident and others in and beyond Canada as examples of memory politics: the historical and typically identity-based contestation about traumatic pasts and their meaning for different communities and generations over time. With the aim of deepening our understanding of the polarization that shadows the Holocaust in particular, our conversations will focus on pivotal debates and long-running antagonisms that highlight how fluctuating memories of the genocide have precipitated divergent emotional attachments, identifications, and resentments since the end of World War II.  Along with the Hunka controversy as it illuminates the legacy of Canada’s war-time antisemitism, we might consider previous debates about Shoah representations in Germany before and after its reunification as well as current battles connected with Israel’s war with Hamas.  Among the texts we might draw upon to further our reflections: Hannah Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem; Irving Abella and Harold Troper’s None Is Too Many; Peter Novick’s The Holocaust in American Life; Michael Marrus’s The Holocaust in History; Michael Rothberg’s The Implicated Subject; Tom Segev’s The Seventh Million; Bashir Bashir’s edited collection, The Holocaust and the Nakba; Omer Bartov’s Genocide, The Holocaust, and Israel-Palestine; Elie Wiesel’s Dawn; and Adania Sibli’s Minor Detail.

ENGL 426 LEC B1: Studies in Literary and Cultural Histories
Energy | Culture
M. Simpson

In this age of anthropogenic climate change, energy as topic and problem will necessarily foreground fossil fuels, precisely because these fuels saturate everything: the petroculture we continue to inhabit mediates all other facets of contemporary life. From this emphasis, however, we will strive to extend energy as concept and paradigm to encompass such things as bio-matter and geo-matter, attention and affect, information and data, commodity production and financial speculation, and so on. Key terms for (and so theoretical perspectives on) our endeavor will include: aesthetics; affect; materiality; temporality; mediation; capital. A prime aim in this course is to consider what happens—to imagine what could become possible—when taking up energy as focus yet also frame: as at once object and analytic.

The syllabus will prioritize readings in critical and cultural theory, but will also features as pivots selected aesthetic materials drawn from fiction, film, photography, and performance art.

ENGL 426 LEC B2: Studies in Literary and Cultural Histories
The Literature and Culture of Human Rights

The language of human rights is instantly recognizable, providing a way to make powerful claims for recognition and for justice. According to scholars, literature is key to the narration and dissemination of those human rights. While the novel has been singled out as a particularly effective genre that has enabled sympathy towards others, this course examines a broader range of narratives that raise awareness of human rights. This course asks, what kind of human rights feelings can these narratives – literary, fictional, autobiographical, visual, comic – cultivate? Who is the subject of human rights and how is that political subject constructed at the level of genre, form, structure, plot, and content?

ENGL 430 LEC X50: Studies in Theory
M. Litwack

For some time now, one has no longer been sure what the term refusal means.
–Jacques Lacan, Seminar XI: The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis

What is the text of her insurgency and the genre of her refusal?
–Saidiya Hartman, "The Belly of the World: A Note on Black Women's Labors"

What, if anything, is useful about saying "no"? In this advanced seminar, we will address this question by undertaking an intensive study of the politics, ethics, poetics, and limits of refusal. Inquiring into the practice of refusal in its multiple forms and avatars, we will draw together a range of texts from the Bible and ancient tragedy to contemporary philosophical, theoretical, and psychoanalytic writings, also engaging a bit of experimental media along the way. In so doing, we'll ask: What possibilities open up--and shut down--when we refuse to compromise, cooperate, or show up to the negotiating table? Is refusal an inherently conservative project in its resistance to transformation (think: the refusal to change or be educated, to "improve" or "develop," to move or move on), or do such refusals in fact obstruct efforts to conserve symbolic and political-economic order? How does refusal bind and unbind social relations? When someone refuses the law, does this suggest that they follow another order of law--let's call it the law of refusal--and, if this is the case, how should we account for such a law's jurisdiction and one's responsibility, right, or duty to it? Must refusal's insistent negativity secretly double as an affirmation or already presuppose a prior, more originary affirmation? That is, to crib from the writer Anne Boyer, must every "no" always also announce a "hell yeah" to something otherwise, to something else, and even when we refuse to respond to another's address is our very act of refusal still occasioned by a recognition of--a saying "yes" to--the other's call? What's the relationship between "refuse" as verb or activity and "refuse" as noun (e.g., waste, lumpen, shit, that which is worthless or useless)? Indeed, should refusal even be considered an activity or, alternatively, does it mark the cessation of activity (as in, say, a Shabbat, a breakdown, or a work stoppage)?

These are some of the questions to be explored in this seminar as we take up topics that may include general strikes, riots, intifadas, and (self-)abolition; worklessness; institution/restitution/destitution; fidelity, fanaticism, betrayal; address and demand; enjoyment; withdrawal and nonperformance.

Please note that the readings in this seminar are demanding. One of the demands that they will place on us is to refuse the false clarity of mastery and submission to the understanding. Practically speaking, this means that we'll try to cultivate space for rigorous unknowing, and spend a lot of time reading closely, rereading collectively and aloud, and, hopefully, getting lost together.

ENGL 465 Lec B1: Studies in Gender & Sexualities

ENGL 483 LEC B1: Studies in Race and Ethnicity
Literary Sound Studies
M. O’Driscoll

This advanced undergraduate seminar will redirect the attention of students of literature from the print text of dominant visual culture to often overlooked audio objects of literary creation and performance. Our critical approach to listening to literature will take place at the intersection of literary studies, sound studies, and the digital humanities in establishing the foundations for audile techniques, or listening practices, that inform a critical methodology of audiotextual analysis.

Those more recent examples of born-digital audio experiments, such as Susan Howe’s Thiefth, Oana Avasilichioaei’s Eight Track, and Jordan Abel’s performances of A Place of Scraps, will be read alongside theories of resistant, critical listening such as such as Jennifer Lynn Stoever’s The Sonic Color Line and Dylan Robinson’s Hungry Listening.

Previous Offerings

2023-24 Fall and Winter Term Courses
2022-23 Fall and Winter Term Courses


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